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2018: A Look Ahead

Despite typically rosy year-end projections for growth and prosperity in the New Year, 2018 holds some ominous threats that may spoil the party

By Gary Griffiths, CEO


It’s the time of year for the lists of last year’s “bests and worsts” and wise prognostications for the year ahead.  And without a doubt, looking forward into the world of the mobile workforce, you would certainly expect to see continued usage growth and exciting new developments.  For example, considering that unlimited cellular data plans have become a fixture in the U.S., one can reasonably expect that Europe will follow suit, placing pressure on European mobile operators to find relief in Wi-Fi as an offload alternative to more expensive and capacity-constrained cellular networks.

Or, I could make an even more obvious projection. The demand for mobile data will continue to accelerate at break net speed, even marking the death of Ethernet, as mobile devices should generate almost 60% of IP traffic, the majority of it video.   And as the insatiable appetite for mobile data continues, marketers, advertisers, and retailers will have a similar appetite for accurate device location data, harnessing this data as a way of tracking potential customers.

I could point out that inflight connectivity will take off in 2018, as new satellites launched in 2017 start generating inflight Wi-Fi speeds that compare favorably with home broadband.

In short, we should expect to see even faster speeds and lower latency, marking 2018 as the most connected year ever – the year when internet connectivity will be expected at all times, in all places, by everyone.  So if we wanted to put a happy face on 2018, all of the above will happen, extending the decade-old mobility party we’ve all enjoyed since the advent of the iPhone.

But there’s been a party crasher lurking outside the door for a few years now.  We all know he’s out there. And we all like to pretend that the locks on our doors and the alarms on our windows will keep this lurker at bay while we party on.  So instead of dwelling on all the good stuff that is likely to happen, let’s take a step back from the hype and hubris and look at what the future may hold in 2018…

In his best selling book, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind, Israeli professor Yuval Harari describes four revolutions in the history of present-day humans.  Fast forward through about 70,000 years of The Cognitive Revolution, The Agricultural Revolution, and The Unification of Mankind, and we reach, circa 1500 AD, The Scientific Revolution.   As a subset of the Scientific Revolution, and beginning with the rise of the Personal Computer around 1980, The Digital Revolution started, growing gradually through the 1990s, then exploding as the Internet and the mainstreaming of “.com” economy.

The Digital Revolution has gone a long way toward effectively shrinking the world, creating a true globalism of common computer systems, which broadly unite commerce, and digital social networks, which allow for friendships across the world.  So as we enter the fourth decade of “digitalization,” everything from the water we drink, the food we eat, the energy we consume, the money we earn, the “friends” we make, and the entertainment we enjoy are virtually dependent on technology: the operating systems and the devices on which they run, the millions-upon-millions of applications, most of which are consumed and maintained by billions of consumers on billions of mobile devices.  Neat, huh?

But wait. Let’s go back to that party crasher, the guy who wants to ruin our digital orgy, whether for personal financial gain, political power, or just to be disruptive. He threatens to hack into our lives as a computer virus, or malware, phishing, cyber-terrorism, or any other of the black hat “trades” that keep the white hats scrambling 24/7.

So what if 2018 is the year the Digital Revolution crashes, brought down by unscrupulous hackers?  Let’s take a closer look at the risks we face.

  • Meltdown and Spectre. It’s a sign of these digital times that you’ve probably heard this dangerous, fundamental flaw built into pretty much every computer on the planet — a flaw that could allow attackers to access even the most secure information on your computer.  This exposure has been around for years but has only recently been disclosed.  These design flaws impact the kernel, a fundamental component of every operating system and any device.  Among other things, the kernel keeps the data in one application from being read by another.  In short, the risk of these design flaws is the exposure of things you’d like to keep private, like credit cards or Social Security numbers.  While there are some software “work arounds” to minimize exposure, software patches will likely slow down the performance of our devices – especially in the cloud.  But worse, a concerted effort by a rogue state or terrorist organization could cause widespread panic and disruption if they found a way to exploit these vulnerabilities across a broad array of fixed and mobile devices.
  • Malware of Mobile devices. Malware is an umbrella term for all the evil software that can infect your devices: viruses, worms, Trojan horses, malware, spyware, adware, scareware, and a bunch of other “wares” like the infamous WannaCry ransomware attack that ground the global economy to a near halt last spring.  Until recently, most malware attacks have been associated with computers, and not so much on smartphones or tablets.  Is this because Apple and Google have more secure designs for mobile devices?  Well, partially. But the real answer is economics: until recently, there were simply a lot more computers in the world than mobile devices.  And considering the Microsoft OS has been around for over thirty years now – compared to less than a decade for Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android – hackers have had more time to become experts at their nefarious trade.  But in 2018, there are certainly enough mobile devices to make a hacker’s investment worthwhile, and ample time to figure out the vulnerabilities.  Breaches will be bigger, hackers will be smarter, and IT security budgets will struggle to keep up.  So don’t be surprised if 2018 is the first year that malware goes mobile in a big way.
  • State-sponsored attacks. By now it is commonly accepted that rogue nations – North Korea, Iran, Russia – are behind well funded, well-orchestrated attempts to infiltrate commercial or government systems for extortion, disruption, or spying.  With little in the way of a unified international response to these bad actors, one would be naïve to assume risks of these attacks would not increase in 2018.
  • “Evil Twin” Wi-Fi Hotspots. An Evil Twin is a Wi-Fi hotspot set up by a cybercriminal, meant to mimic a legitimate hotspot – perhaps a Starbucks that offers free Wi-Fi.   These rogue hotspots look totally legitimate to the users, even replicating the valid network address (SSID) of the access point.  Once a hacker lures victims into connecting to the Evil Twin, the hacker can then steal account names and passwords and redirect victims to malware sites, view the contents of files that are downloaded or uploaded, or steal personal information, while victims have no idea they are being exploited.   With the spread of Wi-Fi across the planet, we can be sure that these rogue access points will grow proportionally, making it essential for us all to ensure that we are protected when using public Wi-Fi.

In summary, the digital revolution has done a great deal to globalize commerce, putting nations and their people on common systems, and giving literally billions of people access to information and opportunities that didn’t exist in the world of paper and pencil.  But globalization at this scale carries significant risks. There are now billions of devices that can act as portals to computer systems across the world.  So while 2018 will undoubtedly be another year of massive growth in the data consumption of the mobile workforce, we can expect security breaches and malicious attacks to increase apace.  Expect to see even more of enterprise and public sector IT budgets shift to investments in additional security measures.